It ought to have been a day of calm reflection, a day when we pondered, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi put it in The New York Times, “Why India and the World Need Gandhi”.
A day we should have paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi – along with all the politicians at Rajghat – by following at least three of his most cherished principles: non-violence, truth and self-control.
A quiet, contemplative day.
Instead, it was like the Bigg Boss household, a free-for-all, because everyone is pitted against the other, in a fight to the very end.
By Wednesday evening, the man of peace and peaceful coexistence was being fought over by politicians, pulled this way and that on news channels that asked, “My Gandhi vs Your Gandhi”, “Who is Bapu’s real disciple?” (Times Now).
The day had begun promisingly enough, at a sedate pace, with the visit to Delhi’s Rajghat where all TV channels duly followed the Prime Minister around Gandhi’s Samadhi “Gandhi @150 PM pays tribute”, parroted channels in unison. Then it picked up pace.
By noon, a “Mahatma Legacy War” (CNN News18) had broken out as the BJP and the Congress played politics, dutifully amplified out of all proportion by the news channels, in large bleeding headlines.
“PM Pens a Tribute, Opposition Scripts a Tirade” (Times Now).
“Tere Bapu, Mere Bapu” (Aaj Tak).
“Padyatra vs Padyatra” (CNN News18).
“Sonia Targets RSS” (Republic TV).
Suddenly, it was war: So the Congress padyatras in Delhi and Lucknow, led by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, respectively, became conflict zones where Congress workers jostled, fought as the police tried, ineffectually, to contain them. On Aaj Tak, you saw the news channel correspondents fighting to get closer to Priyanka through chaotic crowds.
Then there was Zee News, which decided that the best way to celebrate the Mahatma’s 150th birthday was to divert viewers with the telecast of the film “The Tashkent Files”. This Vivek Agnihotri movie claims there was a conspiracy behind the death of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, whose birthday it was too.
Times Now began the day by singing one of Gandhi’s favourite bhajans, but then it launched a full-frontal attack: first on PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti for her attack on the PM for his opinion article in The New York Times, and then on that other usual suspect, Kashmir.
According to an “explosive report” that surfaced Wednesday afternoon on Times Now, a police report claimed RSS-BJP “killers” had been “sheltered” by the Congress and state parties. “Look how 370 shielded treachery” cried the channel in shame.
(There was an equally “sensational input” Tuesday: #AirHijackAlert, screamed Times Now, about a possible terrorist hijack attempt in Punjab—something that has gone unreported by other news channels.)
And then there’s always Pakistan. Wednesday, India TV went after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “family scandal”— “Imran Khan sister/Kitni badi Fixer”, it hissed, delighted with its rhyme.
By afternoon Congress protests at 10 Janpath (Republic TV), Shashi Tharoor “who wades into Bapu legacy war” (CNN News18), and “plastic” strewn across channels after the PM had called for a curb on plastic use earlier in August, were trending on channels.
Meanwhile. India Today and Republic TV waged war: On the fury of the floods in Patna and on Nitish Kumar – “Nitish Drowns Bihar”? (Republic TV)
This quarrelsome atmosphere where the news of the day is always a conflict – or nuclear stand-off on Hindi channels – drowned out the reports on how Gandhi’s birthday was celebrated in Nepal (Republic TV) or in Sabarmati itself (Republic, CNN News18) and the tributes to him by Aaj Tak with Kranitkari, or India TV and DD News.
NDTV 24×7 took the easy way out. It ignored the events of the day – Gandhi, the padyatras, the scuffles – to conduct a daylong “Swasthagraha” with Amitabh Bachchan and other luminaries.
Aaj Tak emulated NDTV 24×7 with its own “Safaigiri” programme.
By evening, something akin to peace descended, briefly, on news channels as PM Modi visited Sabarmati Ashram and declared India defecation free near banks of the Sabarmati river.
Then it was back to the TV studios for “Sonia Gandhi vs Mohan Bhagwat” (Republic TV). If you’re lucky you may have avoided such primetime battles by joining Modi at garba festivities in Ahmedabad where, News Nation said, he will attend an aarti.
News channels treated Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary the way they treat all other issues –as a tamasha that gives Bigg Boss a run for its money.
Yes, it’s back for Season 13 and Salman Khan is looking like a leaner-but-no-meaner version of himself (Colors TV). This time, Salman promised it will be a fast-paced show. What that means is that the insults fly thick and fast and the contestants performed tasks even before they entered the precincts of the house, such as assembling bhel puri—well, it’s not MasterChef Australia, right?
The contestants climb into bed with each other (ahem!), and only if you have watched the soap Dil Se Dil Tak will you appreciate the sweet cruelty of Siddhartha Shukla being in the same house as Rashami Desai. By the way, there’s another Siddhartha on Bigg Boss, Siddhartha Dey who apparently sleeps soundly, undisturbed by his own foghorn snores, which keep other contestants awake.
He could well be the first contestant to be evicted for snoring.
Other contestants include Abbu Malik (Anu Malik’s brother), TV actresses like Mahira Sharma, Aarti Singh, Dalljiet Kaur – again, this is meaningful information only for TV soap watchers.
And there’s Azim and Paras, who appear to be there for their six-pack torso, which they expose at the slightest excuse.
Actress Ameesha Patel appeared in Monday’s episode to “boss” the inmates, and already they’re all whispering sweet nothings and evil somethings to each other.
You have three months of this to look forward to. It’s this or the news channels….